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Facing Racism: Do We Really Know What Others Feel?

Much that has been said in recent days regarding all the shooting incidents has generated more heat than light.

The one thing nearly everyone agrees on is that each shooting is a tragedy that should not have happened. The disagreements come from how to prevent such incidents from happening again.

First, is dealing with sin.

That may sound off-putting to this postmodern generation, but sin is at the heart of all hatred, racism and acts of violence.

The answer to sin is to commit one’s life to Jesus Christ and allow him to change our hearts. More than one person filled with rage and hatred has seen his or her heart changed through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Second, we need to know one another, and that begins by talking to one another.

I was raised in a small, rural community. I attended rural grade schools and was never in a school with an African-American until I started high school. Even there, we had few black students.

I never knew any of the problems they faced in our community until years later when I read a book written by a number of African-Americans from our town.

It wasn’t until then that I learned that my black classmates had not been allowed to try on their clothes in many of the stores in our community, and if they didn’t fit after they got home, they were not allowed to return them.

I didn’t know that, for many years, blacks in our community were required to sit in the balcony in our movie theater nor did I know that they were required to enter a local drug store through the side door.

They could order lunch there, but they were not allowed to remain to eat it. They had to take their meals outside to eat them.

Needless to say, the book was an eye-opener and showed me a side of the community I never knew existed.

About the same time I was reading this book, I was working one Saturday by myself in a family-owned business when an older African-American gentleman came in.

We had never met, but we were soon engaged in a conversation that showed me there was still much about my community I had never considered.

He asked why there were no black doctors or dentists in our area. He wondered why our school system had no African-American teacher working in our schools.

Many years before, a black school had closed and, to my knowledge, only one teacher was retained.

I had her for one class in high school, and she was a great teacher. But I had never realized that there were no other African-American teachers in any of our schools.

I had a very good, long discussion with this African-American gentleman. When he left, I realized that his experience in our community had been much different than mine.

These are the kinds of discussions we need to have with one another. Until we understand the experiences of others, we need to be very careful about offering advice.

The church should be a place where such discussions should take place, but this will require some intentionality to make it happen.

We should also be aware that such discussions will likely make some people very uncomfortable.

But, how do we get to know one another unless we can talk with one another? If we cannot talk about our differences and how we view our world, we will never understand one another, and we will never come together.

It is also time the church becomes more intentional about pursuing diversity.

A pastor friend of mine was confronted a few years ago by an African-American pastor who told my friend, “You’re always inviting us to be a part of what you are doing. When are you going to become a part of what we are doing?”

Soon after, my pastor friend’s church became a part of the local black Baptist association, and they have become very involved in the work of this association. Both the church and the association have benefited from the relationship.

The racial problems in America are not going to go away in the near future, but until the church and individuals begin to intentionally work toward understanding one another and developing relationships with one another, these problems will only grow worse.

Simplistic answers won’t solve our problems, but prayer and building relationships with one another will go a long way to resolving them.

Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. He blogs at Bivocational Ministry, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.